Is the open plan office worth quitting over?

Open office floor plan

The virtues of the open office floor plan is a time honoured debate. The for team claim enhanced collaboration, innovation and creativity result from a cubicle free workspace, while those against cite endless noisy distractions as getting in the way of productivity.

Personally, I think it all comes down to personal preference and expectations, particularly if you’ve been with the same company for a while. But whether you’re all for office privacy or an open plan free-for-all, would an enforced change be worth quitting over?

That’s the question reportedly facing some of the 12,000+ Apple employees destined to move into the company’s new state-of-the-art facility in Cupertino California later this year. Dubbed the “spaceship”, the $5 billion campus will boast the latest in energy efficiencies, green technologies, a fitness centre, orchard, meadow and a pond. But apparently for some, the open office floor plan will have some dusting off their CVs and heading for the door.

This is almost the opposite of what we’ve come to expect from today’s tech giants with stories of workplaces that contain everything but the standard office layout. Think of slides instead of staircases, office go-kart tracks, and sleeping pods to rejuvenate tired workers with a 2pm catnap. But for Apple employees accustomed to personal office space, rubbing shoulders with colleagues in communal work areas will be a new, and seemingly unwelcome experience.

Although employers can’t do much about personal work preferences, I believe there are some relatively simple concessions that can make the loss of cubicle walls easier for everyone to live with.

Different zones for different types of work

Who says you need to sit at the same desk all day to get your job done? It just makes sense that when you’re making phone calls or troubleshooting a complex problem you need a bit more peace and privacy than when clearing your emails or churning through some routine tasks. Small team, or individual work spaces – like small meeting rooms or even telephone booths – can help people choose the best place to complete the various tasks required of them during their working day. Here at Radix Software for example, we have an adjustable standing desk where people can work when they need some time that’s good for the body as well as the mind.

Everything in its place

So people don’t like the idea of listening to their colleagues munch through a crunchy desk-based lunch while they’re trying to work? (And don’t even start on the horrors of reheated left-overs from last night’s fish dinner!) Clearly separating places to eat and places to work, and perhaps supporting this with a “no-eating-at-your-desk” policy is a simple yet effective way of making an open plan office space a little more ‘palatable’.  😉

Flexible offices have no walls

As the leader of a technology company, I love the concept that “work is a thing we do, not a place we go”. In the western world, we’re fortunate that mobile technologies and high speed connectivity are widely and relatively cheaply available,  making flexible working arrangements a realistic and valuable alternative for many employers.  This means that an unwelcome open office floor plan need not send your staff running to the wanted ads, but rather simply planning to work from the best location for the outcomes they have to deliver.

Technologies like OfficeMaps help organisations keep on top of these kinds of concessions, by helping staff identify the facilities available to them in the workplace and locating where people are working from at any given time.

Does your company have an open office floorplan? What have you done to maintain a happy, healthy and productive workplace after breaking down the cubicle walls?




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About the Author

James Sowry

Over 24 years ago, James opened the doors of his first business venture - an IT services company operating from a tiny office in Brisbane. He now leads a team of over 30 IT professionals to deliver hosted cloud infrastructure and managed IT services as well as document management and collaborative software development for businesses across Australia. James helps business leaders chart their digital strategy, identify opportunities for business improvement and innovation, choose and operate effective technology platforms and maintain effective operations with timely and reliable support.